Archive for March, 2018

Matthew 24:45-51

March 27, 2018

“Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.

But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 24:45-51

In the church we call this week, the week before Easter, Holy Week. Together we remember the events of the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. Today, Tuesday, we remember him teaching in the temple in Jerusalem.

Who was there to listen? Visitors from all over. People whose lives had long included regular trips to Jerusalem for various religious festivals. People there perhaps for the first time. Jews, of course, but also Gentile traders, many doing brisk business in and around the temple. And, also of course, the religious leaders. The lawyers (the scribes), the pastors (the Pharisees), the priests (the Sadducees), the opportunists (the Herodians). And the Roman guards who corralled the crowds and kept the peace.

Each, it seems to me, would have heard these words of Jesus in their own circles of influence. Each had a daily calling they could use to do good or to only serve themselves.

We all know the difference between following our daily callings in the best interests of those we serve or in using our daily work only to serve ourselves. Jesus applauds and encourages the former and he harshly criticizes the latter. One is blessed, the other cursed. Eventually.

And that is the word that hangs in the air. Eventually. Because, for the time being, in the real world, the self-serving types are the ones who succeed, who advance, who make their mark. The scribes who twist the words of scripture to justify anything. The Pharisees who use religion to manipulate and control people with demands that they themselves cannot fulfill. The Sadducees who treat the temple as their own personal piggy bank. The Roman guards who treat their charges like animals to be threatened, harassed, and tamed rather than human beings who deserve respect, safety, and freedom.

That is the world then. How does the world today look? Have we really come as far as we think we have? Are we as enlightened, educated, and sophisticated as we imagine ourselves?

By the end of the week, it is going to look like the powerful win. Jesus, their agitator, will be safely in the tomb. The crowds will thin. The temple will empty. Business will go on like usual without that pesky religious/political/social reformer stirring up trouble. Just about everyone will go to sleep peacefully.

But just wait until Sunday morning….

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you call each of us to serve our neighbor in our daily lives, in our daily callings, in the places where we live our lives. Help us serve well. To love our neighbor. To practice justice, to live with integrity, to serve humbly. And in that, to be your hands and feet in the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Matthew 24:36-44

March 22, 2018

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Matthew 24:36-44

Last night I had to drive to the airport to pick Kelley up. It was 8:39 PM when I glanced out my window as I passed a baseball complex. It was full of little kids playing baseball. Little as in grade school kids. That would not have happened when I was a kid. But honestly I would have loved it. Sports had their place but no little kid would still be outside playing an organized game at that time on a school night.

Of course I can’t be critical of something like that. It wouldn’t be American of me. Just as the ancient Romans used games as a public distraction, a way to keep the masses happy and entertained, sports have long passed apple pie as a quintessential slice of Americana. Today we are engulfed by March Madness, spring training in baseball, spring football for colleges, the upcoming NFL draft, and the Masters just around the corner. Why this fascination with sports?

I know all of the arguments for the good that sports can bring into young lives. I agree with just about all of that. My life would have been very different without the role that sports played along the way. But today I’m wondering if there is something deeper involved that sports deliver into our lives.

Something as simple as winners and losers, good guys and bad guys, clear rules and boundaries, contests with beginnings and endings, and a scoreboard at the end that tells the story. All of this is very pleasing to us, especially since real life in the real world is never as clear, never as simple, never as predictable, never as harmless. Sports have a way of distracting us with a clarity that we don’t get in the other areas of our lives. A clarity we long for.

Jesus’ words today are unsettling for the same reasons we find sports to be pleasant. He describes our lives as something along the lines of soccer’s “extra time.” You don’t know for sure when the game will be over. You don’t know when that final whistle will blow. Jesus tells us that the only thing we can expect is the unexpected. He doesn’t even know.

Jesus also tells us that fairness doesn’t get to play. One is taken, one is left. Such uncertainty is a given…and the advice Jesus gives us is to be ready.

The fundamentals of most sports includes teaching something called “the ready position.” Feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, eyes on the target, ready to move in any position. My new golf teacher began by changing my stance and posture. The ready position is crucial.

Jesus says that same thing. You just never know when God will show up. You never know for sure what will happen next. All we can do is to be ready. To come at life from a place of anticipation and preparation rather than anxiety and desperation. Just like every coach I ever had said on more than once occasion – keep awake!

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, open our eyes today that we might see signs of your on-going presence in our lives, in our world. Awaken us to the realities of life lest we be overly distracted by that which doesn’t truly bring life. Give us words and occasions to share with others the trust and hope that you birth within us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 24:32-35

March 20, 2018

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Matthew 24:32-35

Is anyone else tired of pundits and pollsters? Mathematical games that reduce policy deliberations to numbers (+/-4%). Approval ratings, opinions, and predictions followed by nonstop dissection and competing interpretations. Evidently we love these things or we wouldn’t be constantly barraged by them.

The newspaper tells us that NASA is making plans to blast an earthbound asteroid out in space in 2134. Social Security will run out of money in 2030 (I’ll be 70 then, ouch.) Stephen Hawking’s final research paper, “A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation”, predicts the end of the universe. Or at least this universe. (But I’m still going to save for retirement.) The only thing we know for sure is that the universe as we know it has clearly outlived Stephen Hawking.

As we work our way through this 24th chapter of Matthew we always keep in mind that the cataclysmic event of the day was the destruction of the Jewish temple and the attempted decimation of the population in and around Jerusalem. By the time Matthew was written, those things had already happened. What Matthew gives us in Jesus is a narrative seeking to make sense of all of it.

Today Jesus wonders, “Can we read the signs of the times?” Do we see, in the current realities of our lives, signs of God’s activity? Do we see, in the current realities of our lives, signs of the rejection of God’s ways of being?

Is it possible that our fascination with polls and opinions, with future predictions and possible outcomes, are simply diversionary tactics that fill the air so we can’t hear, or see, what is truly happening in and around us?

A month ago no one in Austin was afraid of a FedEx delivery. Not today. Fear has gripped an entire region. Eventually the perpetrators of these gutless bombs will be stopped and caught. But until then suspicion and fear will cast a dark pall over life. No one knows when it will end.

Jesus tells us “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” What words are these? These words so closely tied to the destruction of the temple, or these words so closely tied to the tensions of our lives, the “now but not yet-ness” in which we live? His words of impending doom or future glory or both?

Sometimes I wonder how it is that many people pay much more attention to, and take much more stock in, the poll numbers they read in the papers than the words of Jesus in the Bible. If the talking heads on television are more influential than preachers doing their best every Sunday to bring Jesus to bear on our lives. That many people take Stephen Hawking more seriously than Jesus.

The bottom line is that I don’t know what the future holds, but I trust the One who holds the future in the palm of His hand. I trust his Word. I trust his promises. I trust Him.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we live in an age of anxiety and fear. In that we join people of all times and all places for there has always been, and will always be, a precariousness to our lives. There is always tension. There is always the temptation and desire to control, to explain, to justify. Come to us today, as you always have and always will, to assure us that you have the whole world, now and forever, in your hands. Soften our fear with faith. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 24:29-31

March 15, 2018

“Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Matthew 24:29-31

I’m at a loss with what to do with this passage. The poetry is powerful. The images are indelible. This passage needs to be painted. It needs to become a symphony performed by the finest orchestras in the world. We need to see, hear, and feel it. But the temptation is to explain it and then it loses something significant.

I read this passage and I see the world as we know it, the universe as we imagine it, coming apart from the seams. Coming apart, not in destruction, but in bursting forth with new creation.

This passage, in fact this entire chapter, stands in opposition to the idea that life is meaningless and purposeless. It flies in the face of any idea that life is just a random collection of atoms moving along the currents of electromagnetic energy. This is about life heading somewhere, actually toward someone, who will finally be revealed in power and great glory.

This is not a fireworks show on the 4th of July. A show you just sit back and admire. This is the sound of an approaching army that demands a reaction. The rumble of a great unknown that shakes the windows, strikes a fire in your belly, and renders you speechless. Whether in awe or in terror, you will both move and be moved at the sights and sounds.

For centuries the people of Israel imagined the Great Day of the Lord. These were the images that captured those hopes. The loud trumpet – the sounds that leveled Jericho’s walls, that called the people of Israel to worship, that led the people of Israel in worship – would herald the arrival of the Messiah.

That sound continued in the Christian imagination. Those who expected Jesus to right all the wrongs of the world NOW, began to trust that Jesus simply hadn’t fully accomplished their ideals YET. The angels in Revelation 8 prefaced the unsealing of the mystery with their own trumpets. But, to see this vision coming to reality SOMEDAY is challenged by the ministry of Jesus which seeks to be realized every day.

Far better than seeing this as a preview of coming attractions, is to imagine the power of its musical score playing in our mind’s eye, like that ear worm song that we can’t quit thinking about, even as we go about the daily tasks of life. It’s goal is to fill us with hope, not dread.

Let us pray: Bring it on, Lord! Whatever you have in store for us, wherever you would lead us, bring it on. Give us a vision of your coming among us that encourages us to be the best we can be, to do the best that we can, to love completely, to follow willingly, to embrace what you have shown us to be that matters. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 24:23-28

March 13, 2018

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’ —do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note, I have told you beforehand.

So, if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. Matthew 24:23-28

In every age fraught with anxiety there will be voices of those who shout above the crowd, “Follow me!” And whoever said it first was right, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

Every get rich quick scheme needs people to leave their values and common sense behind before buying into their sure-fire way to get rich, to beat the market. Any religious huckster can draw a few devoted followers. Every day on the Internet we see ads in the corner that don’t make sense but tempt us to click first and ask questions later.

Why do we fall for it?

Because we want an edge. We want a shortcut. We don’t want to be left behind or left out. And because that is our nature, we are always vulnerable to being cheated, deceived, and egged on despite our inner conscience screaming “NO!” There is a reason why “confidence men” are called con men. Because they grab us by our aspirations and hold us by our unwillingness to admit that we’ve been had.

This is nothing new. I didn’t realize the extent to which false messiahs captured peoples’ attention in the 1st century until I read Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. While there are passages in the New Testament that hearken back to some of those characters (see Acts 5:34-40), Aslan reaches more deeply into the history to demonstrate that it wasn’t at all unusual for people to claim magical powers or divine sanction to develop a cult of followers.

What is tragic is that today, as smart as we think we are, we are still just as susceptible to charlatans. I’ve had parishioners who were scammed out of great amounts of money that they couldn’t afford to lose. But once they were in the net it was very difficult to extricate themselves. Partly they didn’t want to admit their foolishness but, even more powerful, they kept hoping against hope that the scam might really pay off someday.

The most effective scams are those accomplished by the rich and famous. We swoon for celebrities and those who have “made it”. Bernie Madoff made off with over $17 billion. Bennie Hinn still packs arenas. Some of the largest and most influential Christian congregations in America are based on the promise that if you give a lot to God, God will give a lot to you.

Jesus’ advice to us is simple on all of this – don’t follow, don’t listen, don’t fall for their false promises and empty rhetoric.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, in every age there are voices all around that tempt us away from trusting in you, from following your ways of being in the world. Protect us from these temptations. Expose those who prey upon peoples’ hopes and dreams only to use and abuse them for their own selfish motives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 24:15-22

March 12, 2018

“So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; the one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” Matthew 24:15-22

Some people will remember this past NFL season for Philadelphia’s upset victory in the Super Bowl. Far more will remember it for the controversy generated by players kneeling during the singing of the national anthem. The players said they did what they did as a way of drawing attention to the disproportionate treatment of people of color in our culture. Others said their behaviors heaped sacrilegious scorn on the flag and unpatriotic contempt for people serving in law enforcement and the military.

Wherever you came down on that issue, it gave you a taste of what it would have felt like for Jews to see the Romans abusing, and eventually crushing, the holy practices and cultural center of the Jewish temple. This – using the temple to promote political idolatry – happened several times in Jewish history and is the “desolating sacrilege” spoken of in Daniel.

By the time Matthew was written, those living in Judea and Jerusalem would have already experienced the great suffering of which he writes. It was deep suffering caused, not by religion as it is so often blamed, but by the political arrogance and military might of the Romans.

Recently I have been watching “World War II in Color” on Netflix. It is very difficult to listen to the analytical dispassionate voice of the narrator while watching indiscriminate fire-bombing of cities, ships blown up, planes crashing, the discovery of the death camps, and the various atrocities committed along the way. Why? Because an egomaniac conned an entire country by blaming and scapegoating Jews and ethnic minorities while appealing to the myth of their own cultural superiority.

This is what happened during the first century of the Christian movement and it is what has happened throughout history as people have rejected the Jesus way of being in the world while fiercely keeping a stranglehold on worldly power, wealth, and privilege. That inevitably gives way to suffering. Not redemptive suffering. Not suffering born of compassion. But suffering produced by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong skin color, or the wrong family heritage.

We miss the point if we read Matthew’s words and project them to some point in the far off future. We can only hear them well when we see them reflected throughout history, including in our own day, and see them for what they say.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we know that the hardness of our hearts creates our blindness to the realities of life. When you soften our hearts, you heal our blindness. You attune our ears to hear, our eyes to see. Today we pray for all who suffer at the hands of the powerful and those grasping for power. We pray for peacemakers and activists who challenge conventional thinking and give voice to the powerless and oppressed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 24:4-14

March 9, 2018

Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.  Matthew 24:4-14

When I was in middle school – perhaps the most impressionable period of my life – our family spent two years attending a very fundamentalistic, literalistic, church. I remember attending retreats and a week at a Bible camp where people would give their testimonies. The shape of the testimonies were similar. “My life was a mess. I accepted Jesus as my Savior. My life is now wonderful. But I still struggle sometimes.”

In that I was always a bit intrigued by the “my life was a mess” part but I was fascinated and attracted by the “now my life is wonderful” part. I came out of that period with the idea that giving my life to Jesus (as if that was something I owned and therefore could give) meant that my miserable life would magically get better.

When you throw in “if not now, certainly later in heaven” and you have just about wrapped up the power of tent revivals and emotional conversions. Very persuasive but not terribly biblical.

Matthew tells us in this chapter that following Jesus is far more likely to lead to pain and persecution. Because that is what it means to live in a world broken by sin. Bad things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. Many voices will promise relief – false prophets run amok, all seeking people’s hearts, minds, and wallets. We recognize this world because we live in it.

It is the same world that people have always lived in.

There has never been an age without war. Never been a time without natural disasters. Floods, fires, hurricanes will happen because that is the price we pay to live in this world where we aren’t nearly in control of anything to do the degree we seek control.

Everything that Matthew tells us about in this chapter was already happening in the lives of Matthew’s readers. Just as it all happens in our lives today. And yes, in the midst of it, there is always the temptation to bail out, to give up, to let the currents take us floating away rather than swimming against them. “The love of many will go cold.”

But Jesus tells us to hang in there. To resist. To embrace the struggle. To keep the faith. To keep our heads up. “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we are trusting you in all things. We are grateful that you have opened our eyes, that we might see you in the midst of a broken world of chance, of change, of tragedy, of turmoil. We will keep our eyes on you, lest we be tempted to stray, for you are the way, the truth, and the life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 24:1-3

March 8, 2018

As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Matthew 24:1-3

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” We do well to keep those words in mind as our attention now turns to the “end times” chapters of Matthew. Many of us will find we have to let go of some of the things we might have picked up on the way, maybe the things we remember learning as children. We have to unlearn before we can learn and that is hard.

First, let’s do the math. Jesus died and rose again somewhere near 30 CE. The gospel of Matthew was written somewhere between the early 70’s and mid-80’s CE. That is a long time. When Jesus was alive the temple in Jerusalem was the spiritual center of Jesus’ world, the central marketplace of the city, and a living testament to the power of the powerful. It was, in a very real sense, Herod’s temple. By the time Matthew was written, the temple had been destroyed by the Roman army and the people were devastated.

That requires me to unlearn the idea that Jesus was predicting the future. It requires that I learn to appreciate how Matthew is seeking to help all of us grapple with the question of “Now what?” when our previous hopes and expectations have been crushed. What does it mean that the temple has been destroyed? Where is God in that? What does it mean that Jesus was killed and rose again? Where is God in that?

I heard a great line the other day. Someone said, “Life is like learning math. When someone is teaching us math they present us with a set of problems. They don’t give us the answers, they help us learn how to work through the problems.” Isn’t that what is happening now in this text as the disciples pose their question to Jesus, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

In the face of their questions, rather than providing answers, maybe what Jesus does is provide a framework through which we can find our way through the problems. What next? Where are we going? What is going to happen? What do we do in the meantime?

Let’s let those questions linger in our minds as we move through these next two chapters.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we all want to see around the corners of life. We want to read the end of the story first. We want that edge, that insider information, that will give us a shortcut. Like children, we constantly ask from the back seat, “Are we there yet?” Especially when life is hard and our path is full of obstructions. Give us the courage to be patient as we entrust the journey to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 23:34-39

March 7, 2018

“Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.”

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Matthew 23:34-39

I have agonized for days over this passage. This chapter, this passage, along with verses like Matthew 27:25, “Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’” led to centuries of discrimination, and even attempted elimination, of Jews. This is a classic example of exactly what Jesus has been railing against this entire chapter. He has caught us in the act of twisting the faith to our own purposes. The whole chapter is an indictment of the danger of religion as a system intended to control or influence the behaviors of its adherents. How can this be?

Matthew tells us that Jesus’ words are directed to the “scribes and Pharisees”, in full view of Jesus’ disciples and the gathered crowd. As I’ve written before, nothing would be easier (or more self-serving) than to concretize his words to that long ago moment in history and those larger than life bad guy targets. “Blame it all on the Jews!” starts right here. That gut wrenching song has been playing for centuries.

Once again, if we hear this chapter directed to us it can be for us a cleansing fire. But if we read it as directed to others, it becomes the fires of the Holocaust. I am a Lutheran pastor. I stand on the shoulders of Martin Luther and those that followed. But as much as I appreciate Luther’s courage and insights into the Christian faith, I am appalled at his blindness when he directed his vitriol toward Judaism. Thankfully, my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, finally offered an apology to the Jewish community for the damage done by Luther’s writings. That it took until 1994 to do it is shocking. But true. And we should never forget it.

I don’t know how many Lutheran congregations in the world sit right next to a Jewish synagogue but Faith Lutheran Church does. We share our parking lot with Congregation Brith Shalom. And I am struck, every weekend, with the stark reality that they need to have armed guards present every time they gather for worship because of the on-going threats and dangers of anti-Semitism. Such threats are birthed, and nurtured, by interpretations of verses from the Bible, like this chapter from Matthew, that blame, shame, and scapegoat.

But there is another way of hearing these words. We can let them point at us.

This way begins with noticing how Jesus describes God – God the mother hen who wants nothing more than to gather her chicks under the warmth of her wings. But the unwilling chicks prefer the cold. They want it their way. So they brazenly defy God and then twist clear godly principles to their own purposes. They co-opt religion to justify themselves.

We do well to remember that, whenever we say that “Jesus took our sins to the cross,” these are exactly the sort of sins we are talking about. Personal, systemic, institutional, cultural sins. And now we will follow Jesus to the cross, knowing full well that the wages of this sin is death.

Let us pray: Forgive us, Lord, for using and abusing religion to use and abuse the very people you love. Hold the mirror of your grace before us and help us more clearly see the log in our eyes. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 23:27-33

March 1, 2018

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?” Matthew 23:27-33

Like I said earlier in the week, the scribes and Pharisees are getting a serious tongue lashing from Jesus. This isn’t “a side of Jesus we rarely see”, this is Jesus saying this stuff! Can’t you feel the passion, the energy, the soul in this rant? And are you able to let his words land on you rather than pointing fingers at someone else?

The scribes and Pharisees live in the same world as we do. They, like us, experience a world that loves us from the outside in. As long as we look good and act good and have the right stuff, and the right stuff, we think we’re loveable. And, by and large, the world responds to us in that way.

But God is the same God as God has always been, and God loves us from the inside out. Paul would later write that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing that we can say, do, dress like, or act like, can separate us from the love of God.

This is doubly challenging.

First, it reminds us that God knows all there is to know about us and loves us anyway. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and loves us anyway. There are no dark corners or secrets or resentments directed from God to us. God loves us anyway. This is so hard for us to grasp. It is so otherworldly.

Second, knowing that we are so loved makes it even harder to be content in our brokenness. Why do we protect the “bones of the dead…the filthiness…the hypocrisy and lawlessness” inside of us that causes us so many problems?

A famous quote from Nelson Mandela comes to mind as I reflect on the pointlessness of living with our brokenness or focusing on how we look rather than how we are:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

The key here is letting the light of God within us shine – not seeking the temporary fix of spotlights and pretending to be who we’re not.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, let your light shine within us, exposing that which needs to be healed within and that which reflects your love out to the world. Love us from the inside out that we might see your glory reflected in everyone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.